There’s Jim, who can’t sit still for two seconds. His legs twitch, rattle, shake and roll, and it looks as though he’s drilling a hole in the ground under his bench. He can’t say two sentences without disparaging himself. He claims his parents got a divorce after he set fire to their living quarters. He was three years old. He says he has three siblings all from different fathers. Officially his problem is something like ADHD which can be and is of course medicated. I think what he needs most is for people to believe in his good heart and sharp brain. He tells me a couple more stories that hit me in the stomach. Based on the reactions of his classmates I get the feeling he’s telling the truth. He claims not to know any English, but then he scores 70 percent on a rather difficult test. And I’m beaming and smiling at him. And I hope that somehow he will see the potential I see in him. I see him three hours a week, with lots of stuff on my own mind, so that’s not a lot to make a dent into his self-depreceating self-image and rather desperate worldview. When he walks over after class and finally tells me something in English I almost forget I have one of the worst paying jobs in Europe.
There’s Nate, who all of a sudden opens up and tells me all the details about his budding love life. A couple days ago he kissed a girl for the first time and he’s surprisingly open about his inexperience. In a very mature way he speaks about his doubts and insecurities. He also tells me he’s attracted to his step-sister -no biological relation-, not to try and shock me -some still try to shock me in their sort of cute, sort of obnoxious teen peacock ways- , but because he really wants to communicate something. One of the other guys is filming his candid testimony, but he doesn’t care.
There’s Abdul, who cracks me up with his original and very fictional anecdotes about him being a terrorist.
There’s Micky Dee, who has a remarkable English accent and might as well have been teleported to my classroom from the streets of London. I let him read books under my nose and from time to time he looks up and makes a joke our supplies the correct answer to an exercise.
There’s Finn, who borrows me satirical novels, for which I simply don’t find the time, and who goes off on interesting philosophical meandering whenever he has the chance.
There’s Bryan, who has the running joke going on that he has a harem and always makes very witty jokes, plus comes to me after class and says that I look like I haven’t slept in days and that I put way too much gel in my hair.
There’s C-jay who’s the manager of a band and tries his best to get attention for his boys.
There’s Slash, who knows everything about German tanks and German assault rifles, who tells me his ex-girlfriend was always nagging and blaming him for everything.
There’s Blake, who overuses the word ‘shit’ and is cocky, but is very good at English, and is funny at times, and seems to have a little Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde inside him, whom I outshock when he tries to shock me.
There’s Medved, who can’t stop talking even for two seconds, but is genuinely interested in many different topics and has a great sense of humor.
There’s Björn, who is usually very quiet in class, but writes little jokes on his tests.
There’s Jasmine, who draws dragons when she’s sad, has a beautiful, almost impeccable accent, is fascinated by paradoxes and has a very dark sense of humor.
You know, these guys I’m teaching English to almost break my heart at times. They can be surprisingly mature, much more than I was at their age, I imagine. They are dealing with the same tricky stuff I was dealing with at their age and I would really like to save them some trouble, and at the same time I don’t want to pretend to be the one who’s got all the answers, because I don’t. I try to explore if the advice I wish I had heard when I was 16 would still make a difference today. That’s not always possible within the rather strict confines of a school system that was developped mainly to supply factories with obedient workers and hasn’t evolved much since. I accept them the way they are, and I hope to plant some seeds of self-confidence here and there, pointing out as often as I can the potential I see in them, because they are miracles each and every one of them, all in their own right. Unfortunately these little, almost clandestine, efforts to help them blossom cannot be captured in administrative terms, so on paper I’m far from a model teacher.